Lifelong quest to end meningitis leads to honorary degree for retired Director of Research, Evidence and Policy

21 Feb 2024
Lifelong quest to end meningitis leads to honorary degree for retired Director of Research

A charity worker who spent her life fighting to end meningitis has today received an honorary degree from the University of Bristol. 

Linda Glennie helped bring in one of the earliest meningitis vaccines, guided research investment into scores of critically important research projects and helped to martial a global roadmap to defeat the disease by 2030

When Linda joined Meningitis Research Foundation in 1996, she had no idea she would spend 26 years there, helping to save countless lives as its Director of Research, Evidence and Policy. 

At the time meningitis cases were spiking, with high-profile outbreaks among children and students leading to hearing loss, sight loss, epilepsy, amputations and death.  

Linda recalled: “Cases of meningitis were hugely increasing. It’s a cyclical disease that has peaks and troughs and it was suddenly very much in the public eye. People were very worried about it and, at that time, we didn’t have vaccines.”  

From an office in the town of Thornbury, north of Bristol, Meningitis Research Foundation had a global impact. 

The team fundraised and commissioned £19 million-worth of research into meningitis, brought real life stories from affected families to the fore, built the world’s first meningitis genome library, spearheaded campaigns for vaccines, organised conferences with experts from around the world and educated healthcare workers on how to diagnose and treat it. 

Linda said that between 1997 and 2010, Meningitis Research Foundation’s investment in meningitis research exceeded that of the Medical Research Council and Department of Health. 

So important was Linda’s role in this, that in retirement she continues to advise health leaders, including as a member of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) meningitis guidelines committee. 

Today she received an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Introducing her to the graduating students and their loved ones, James Stuart, an honorary professor at the University’s medical school, said that Linda was “…in constant demand beyond any call of duty.” 

He added: Those who know Linda recognise her modesty, her sense of humour and her timeless energy. She was well regarded by academics across the field of meningitis research and her collaborative style of working was recognised as exceptional. 

“Linda's meticulous attention to detail has led to Meningitis Research Foundation’s undoubted reputation as a highly trusted source of information, both to scientists working in this field and to the public wanting to know more about meningitis. Her unrelenting quest for answers was much appreciated by families.” 

Taking the stand, Linda said: “It has been a huge privilege to work with countless brave individuals who overcome their own personal pain in so many ways to help put an end to the disease that affected them. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest minds in infectious diseases.” 

Meningitis Research Foundation is now based in Bristol and has strong links with the University of Bristol. Linda worked at the University before joining the charity. 

She had this advice for students: “One thing my story shows is that there isn’t just one way to find a hugely satisfying and worthwhile career. 

“After finishing my MSc in Canada, teaching in Malawi for a couple of years, travelling around Africa, and working at the University, I seemed to be interested in everything but not sufficiently focussed on anything to pursue an academic career, and yet managed to find an all-consuming, vastly fulfilling thing to do with my life: working for Meningitis Research Foundation.” 

After the ceremony, she said she was “flabbergasted” to be offered an honorary degree from Bristol. I almost deleted the email because I thought it was a scam,” she said. 

“Fortunately, I didn’t delete it and I’m really amazed and grateful to be here. I’m not used to wearing a robe and hat.” 

Vinny Smith, Chief Executive at Meningitis Research Foundation, expressed his delight at Linda receiving an honorary degree, saying: “Linda is a star of the meningitis field. During her time at Meningitis Research Foundation, cases and deaths from meningitis fell significantly in the UK and Linda played a crucial role in making that happen.

"There are people walking around today who don’t know Linda but who owe their lives to her work. In the years ahead, her work on the World Health Organization’s Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030 will spread that impact around the world.

"And on top of this, she was a joy to work with. Few colleagues have a coffee tin in the fridge with ‘antidote’ written on it, but that is Linda all over. Serious about research, serious about coffee, silly and fun about all the stuff that should be silly and fun.”

Give researchers the clues to help defeat meningitis
Give researchers the clues to help defeat meningitis
£160/€190/$214 decodes the genetic information in a sample of meningococcal bacteria. This information helps us to track new forms of meningitis and campaign to introduce new vaccines.